We LOVE Hops

It’s a pretty redundant thing to say really, I’m sure all craft brewers think hops are pretty awesome. In fact, I’m yet to meet a fellow brewer who doesn’t inhale deeply of that sticky green goodness after it’s rubbed vigorously between one’s palms, look you in the eye, sneeze three or four times covering you in a mixture of smashed lupulin glands, mucus and small, wet pieces of dessicated hop petals and declare the greatness of the mighty Humulus lupulus.

That’s exactly what we all get together and do once a year with Paul Corbett and Will Rogers of Charles Faram, our sole hop supplier. Their team manage to source all of the hops we love from around the world. Whether it be from Slovenia, the Hallertau regions of Germany, the American Yakima Valley or the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, the Faram team provide us with an amazing selection of choice hops.

So this year saw our annual pilgrimage to sunny Worcestershire (it doesn’t rain there does it?) to get our noses stuck in. Catherine and I had already spent the weekend there staying at The Talbot at Knightwick, a mighty pub if ever there was one (you can read last year’s blog about it here) and walking around the picturesque Brockhampton Estate, so we met up with fellow Thornbridgers Stefano, JK, Andrea, Matt and Dave and it was time to sniff!

How do we get this through customs???

It’s always fascinating noticing the differences and similarites that each variety expresses and this year was no exception. Where there is a number in parentheses, this is where we smelt different batches of the same hop… amazing what subtle differences in growing and harvest conditions do to the hop aroma! Below is my aroma notes so you don’t have to annoy Charles Faram on the phone or email!!!

First Gold – citrus, sweet, perfumed

US First Gold – more delicate than UK version, more earthy and green but quite similar

Sovereign – delicate with hint of raw vegetable/carrot

Fuggles – cut grass, capers, nasturtium

Progress – citrus tending towards lemon, a hint of resin

Sonnet – woody, resinous, hint of varnished wood

Northdown – floral and a touch of resin

Goldings – a little dusty, very delicate with lemon undertones

Hallertau Hersbrucker – chocolatey and perfumed

Saaz – woody, spicey, pungent orange

Hallertau Tradition – cut grass, a touch floral

Lubelski – very delicate, a touch perfumed

Crystal – a hint of sweat, Nelson Sauvinesque, loads of aroma

Celeia – cinnamon, orange

Aurora – cut hay, lemongrass, piney

Bobek – sandalwood and citrus

Boadicea – very perfumed, cut grass, capers

Liberty – very delicate with a hint of floral

Mount Hood – dried fruit, guava, raspberries and cream

Hallertau Northern Brewer – big hop oil perfume, underlying citrus, nice and fragrant

Hallertau Mittelfruh – a hint of vinyl with floral characters

Pilgrim – Earthy, green, chocolate raisins

Target – very intense, yellow stone fruit, pineapple

Phoenix – sweet perfume, grassy, a hint of vegetal

Perle – Pina Colada, orange, pineapple and coconut

Admiral – banana, peaty and smokey

Pioneer (1) – dried fruit, some floral perfume

Pioneer (2) – More grassy and less fruity than (1)

Bramling Cross (Kent) – grapefruit, citrus, similarities to Riwaka

Bramling Cross (Herefordshire) – same character as Kent with more perfume, yet more delicate

Sorachi – coconut, mushrooms, oranges

Willamette – a little lemon, quite delicate

Cascade – a hint of resin and citrus with a little background turpentine

Ahtanum – Bergamot/Mandarin oil, very fragrant, yet delicate

Hallertau Brewers Gold – quite delicate, a touch biscuity

Herkules – lemon, banana, massive!!!

Hallertau Magnum – strongly perfumed, some citrus

Chinook (1) – sweaty, piney, fantastic

Chinook (2) – less sweaty than (1)

Chinook (3) – more floral than (1) and (2)

Centennial – lemon, herbal, citrus throughout

Amarillo – banana, grapefruit, a touch of orange

Simcoe – lemon, Sauvignon wine characters, a touch delicate

Citra – tropical, quite peachy

Pallisade – green notes, perfumed, some Allium notes

Bravo – citrus throughout with a hint of curry spice

Summit – massive citrus, chive flowers, slightly tarry

Apollo – similar to Summit but with a touch of roastiness

Lots and lots and lots of hops!!!

Another brilliant day out learning things that no book or visit to a big brand brewery will ever teach you. A word of warning though, most brewers are well aware of the soporific (that’s sleep-inducing for those too lazy to use the thesaurus option on your computer) qualities of the Hop flower, yet it doesn’t look like anyone mentioned this to Dave and Andrea…

Succumb to the Power of the Hop!

And yes, I am well aware how dodgy the photos of plastic bags filled with green vegetation look. How would you explain those photos to a drug enforcement officer!?!

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Hop to it!

Thornbridgers like ourselves love spring. No longer do we have to throw steaming hot water onto the external pipes so we can pre-rinse our dirty casks. No longer do we have to waste time plunging our bright red hands into a bucket of warm, soapy water just to keep them warm instead of washing barrels. Toes like ice-cubes nestling in our Wellington boots, in my case with my possum-merino blend socks on, wondering why we didn’t put two pairs of socks on that morning whilst cursing the chilly snow.

Couple that with the bustle of activity as the dormancy of winter dissipates, buds opening, spring blossoms blooming, insects and birds and animals emerging and you can see why it makes a brewer happy. Yet beyond all of the Pantheistic worship is the most exciting thing that spring offers the Thornbridgers. You guessed it… the new seasons hops have all arrived at our hop suppliers!

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Stefano, Dave and Matt all left early on Monday morning to make the trek down to Newland, a small town close to Malvern in Herefordshire where Charles Faram & Co Ltd, our hop suppliers, run their hop warehouse. Myself and Catherine were both already in London, so we also headed over and had planned a night in a local pub called The Talbot at Knightwick, which (oh, so conveniently) happened to have a little brewery attached called Teme Valley Brewery as well as a great selection of local sourced food.

Stef, Dave and Matt met up with Charles Faram hop legends Paul Corbett and Will Rogers, both veritable black belts in the art of Hop-kido. They all went off to visit Mark Andrews who had grown the delicious fresh Target hops that we had used in our 2008 Green Hop Vintage of Halcyon (our Imperial IPA). I met up with them upon their return and we got into some serious hop sniffing!

We started with the more delicate hops then moved right through to the pungent beasts, and I thought it would be a good idea to put a few aroma descriptors next to each… you never know if any budding home brewers are going to be reading this blog! So here goes…

Sovereign – Similar to Fuggles/Goldings with good pungency and floral notes

Saaz – Hay, dried apricots with hints of spice

Lubelski – Smokey, slight oxidised character, some spice

Crystal – Noble aroma, Cascade-esque character, mango and stone-fruits with some citrus

Mount Hood – Perfume and wood, quite delicate

Sterling – Old lemons and some lemon dishwashing liquid

Santiam – Lots of pineapple, clean character

Sladek – Mint, spice, hardwood

Aurora – Biscuit, slightly cheesey with some mint

Atlas – Hint of lemon, wood with some patchouli

Savinski – Lemon dishwashing liquid with some root vegetable character

Bobek – Fuggles like with some more lemon

Celeia – Styrian Goldings like but more intensity with a little lemon zest

Sorachi – Lemongrass, pineapple, mouldy citrus (but in a good way!)

Bramling Cross – Grapefruit, passionfruit and some berry characters

Pilgrim – Very pungent with some almost dairy characters

Willamette – Mango, peaches, ribes (blackcurrant)

Marynka – Banana, shoe polish, slight vegetable character

Northern Brewer – Intense hop pungency

Ahtanum – Delicate citrus, fresh cut hay

Cluster – Pine, citrus some bubblegum

Galena – Pineapple, pine needles, oriental wood

Herkules – Intense hop pungency. Hard to characterise

Chinook – Pine, citrus, grassy

Centennial – Orange zest, pungent

Amarillo – Grapefruit, floral with some sweetness

Simcoe – Sage, slightly balsamic, citrus and some rubber/sulphur

Cascade – Citrus and tropical juice, good pungency

Challenger – Green peppercorns, chocolate, some cheddar

So I suppose you could call this list a beginners guide to the 2008 crop of hops! It was amazing to smell the difference that the hops would have from farm to farm and really highlighted how important it is for us as brewers to nose the hops before every brew to ensure we’re getting consistent aroma and flavour characteristics into our beer.  It also works as a fantastic brainstorming session as we begin to build beers based on the hops we are nosing. Needless to say, we have a few already! The other fun part of testing the hops is how stupid we look doing it! Catherine took a few photos, so I thought it would be a good idea to put some in…

 

Noses at the ready...
Noses at the ready…

 

Dave gets amongst it... Paul loses his favourite hop!

Dave gets his nose dirty. Paul loses his favourite hop! Dave???

Do you want any?

Do you want any?

Dave's had too many...

Dave's had too many...

So has Stef!

So has Stef!

Paul, Matt, Stef, Dave, Kelly and Will. We ain't seen no hops!

Paul, Matt, Stef, Dave, Kelly and Will. We ain't seen no hops!

                                                                                       

Next stop for Catherine and I was the Talbot where we managed to plonk ourselves down in front of the massive open fire and get down to some serious card playing! It was really cool for us to actually be staying in a pub where we didn’t have to run downstairs all the time! We decided to start snacking and because the bar menu had so many great meals on it, that’s what we ended up doing all night! We started off with some pheasant giblets on their toasted homemade bread which were awesome and then went for an amazing prawn and crab bisque. The bisque had been made with the crab shells as a stock and was intensely aromatic and took me straight back to growing up on a beach in New Zealand and getting crabs with my family every low tide. We also went for a beautiful pigs-head brawn which was amazingly fresh and full of pieces of pork, fat and wonderful natural gelatine. A little later we shared a baked Chaser cheese with yet more freshly toasted bread, olives and sundried tomatoes. It was awesome! To top it off, a little rhubarb crumble and fresh custard made us the happiest New Zealanders in the whole of Worcestershire! The food went well with the selection of Teme Valley ales that they had on tap, all full of delicious locally grown English hops with names such as This, That and T’other… This was my favourite though.

Cat chilling by the fire

Cat chilling by the fire

The English breakfast the next morning was a show stopper! Eggs, bacon, black pudding made on site, kidneys, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, fried bread and probably one of the nicest sausages I’ve ever had in the UK, made by Parsons Nose, a local supplier. In fact the Talbot’s breakfast was officially voted the best pub breakfast in the whole UK by the British Pork Executive!! Coupled with their home preserved apricots, rhubarb and marmalade, this place is well worth a visit! They even make their own fruit liqueur which they put in your room as a nightcap! And because of my love of traditional food (and the fact I spotted the menu below as we left), I’m definitely going back!

Yum!

Yum!

                                                                                          

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